Matthew Wilson is confident of equalling his best finish from the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship campaign thus far on Rally Japan this weekend – an event on which three years ago, the young Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team ace achieved the finest result of his WRC career to-date.
Wilson came home an excellent fourth on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in 2007 and followed that up with another points-scoring run in seventh place a year later, and with the championship returning to his preferred loose-gravel surface, the 23-year-old Cumbrian is hoping to replicate his past success in the Far Eastern forests and secure his second top five finish of the season in his Ford Focus RS WRC.
“I'm happy to return to gravel after the last all-tarmac round in Germany,” he reported. “It's definitely my preferred surface, and I always enjoy myself more when driving on gravel. Japan has been a good event for me in the past; I achieved my best-ever result there in 2007 and I really enjoy the culture – it's so different from home.
“Scott [Martin – co-driver] can use about 80 per cent of his pace notes from 2008's rally as there are only six new stages this year, so I think we'll be quite well-prepared. I've heard that the weather forecast is mainly dry for the rally, and I hope it will stay that way – the forest-based stages will get really slippery if it's wet! I want to finish in the top five on this event, and if I find a good rhythm on the rally's opening stages, I think we can do that.”
Team-mate Henning Solberg is similarly primed to go on the attack in Japan, the Norwegian and co-driver Ilka Minor returning as Stobart M-Sport's second nominated points-scorers after piloting a Ford Fiesta S2000 on the previous WRC round in Germany. The 37-year-old brother of 2003 WRC Champion Petter Solberg also has a strong track record from his brace of rallying appearances in the Land of the Rising Sun, having finished a superb third on his debut there in 2007, just ahead of Wilson.
This weekend, he is bidding to leapfrog fellow Ford Focus RS WRC driver Federico Villagra for eighth spot in the drivers' standings, whilst at the same time staving off the threat from behind of former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, competing for the Citroën Junior Team.
“I really like the stages in Japan, but they are also very challenging for drivers and it's easy to feel too confident and push too hard in the beginning,” Solberg mused of the event on his favoured surface. “I've only been to Japan twice before – the last time was not so good for us because we had some technical problems, but we will work hard on the recce so I can learn the stages as best as I can. For sure I think I can do well at this event; I like driving the Ford Focus best on gravel, and I think if I can maintain a consistent pace throughout then I will finish in a good position.”
“Japan has been a strong round for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team in the past, and I am confident that both Matthew and Henning can produce some of their best results of the season,” affirmed team principal Malcolm Wilson as he looks ahead to an outing that has undergone several tweaks following a year's absence from the WRC calendar.
“Henning was unfortunate to retire from 2008's event, but he is an experienced driver who has proved he can adapt well to different road conditions, so I have little doubt that he will fare well in Japan this time around. We only have three WRC rounds remaining in the 2010 season after this, so I'd really like to see the Stobart team leave Japan on the back of a strong showing and for Henning to have moved up the overall drivers' championship standings.”